Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

By Robert Mason | Go to book overview

SIX
FROM NIXON
TO REAGAN
The End of the
Quest for a
New Majority,
1972-1976

On March 7, 1973, Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania telephoned Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon's secretary, with some good news for the president. Scott told Woods that the latest poll data from his state suggested that 70 per- cent of the electorate approved of Nixon's performance, believed to be "the highest approval record ever accorded a President."1 At the time of his land- slide reelection and in the months immediately following it, Nixon achieved a pinnacle of support. But the support of many Americans was about to de- sert him.

The reason for the impressive poll results in early 1973 was the negotiated end of direct American involvement in Vietnam. When peace talks had stalled in December, Nixon responded by launching a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Talks then resumed, leading to a peace agreement that went into effect on January 27. The peace dividend Nixon enjoyed was to reap the benefits of national satisfaction that American soldiers were no longer participating in the war.

Nixon suffered a spectacular decline because of political scandal. Soon after Scott's conversation with Woods, polls began to show widespread disillusion- ment stemming from White House involvement in the crimes of Watergate. According to Gallup, the national approval rating for the president dropped to 48 percent in April, 39 percent in July, and 27 percent in October.2 The scan- dal increasingly absorbed Nixon's attention, while revelations about its se- riousness caused his national base of support to fracture. Watergate quickly

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